Talk of ‘elite’ starts with Tide
After a close loss to Ohio State in 2018, Penn State Coach James Franklin described Penn State as a “great team” and Ohio State as an “elite team.”
After witnessing, in person, Alabama’s 52-28 annihilation of Ohio State on Monday night, I am certain the gap between “great” and “elite” is much smaller than the gap between elite and whatever Alabama is.
This Alabama team was a collection of elite athletes who sacrificed individual glory for team greatness (and it is no surprise that individually, the players were the most decorated of all time with three players in the top five of the Heisman Trophy voting).
No player personified the “team concept” better than Jaylen Waddle.
Waddle was Alabama’s top wide receiver, but he fractured his ankle on Oct. 24 and was ruled out for the rest of this season.
As Bama’s second receiver, Devonta Smith, blossomed into the eventual Heisman winner, Waddle, instead of sulking, was shown on the sideline in a cast encouraging and cheering on Smith.
After months of tough rehab, even though he was assured of being a top 15 NFL draft prospect, Waddle shocked the world by suiting up for the Ohio State game.
During warm-ups, I could see how his mere presence was firing up the team, and during the game, even though he had a noticeable limp, he made some crucial catches.
I don’t believe any team has ever had a quarterback (Mac Jones), running back (Najee Harris), and receiver (Smith) play at such a high level.
Smith appeared wide open for his 12 first-half catches because his first step is explosive and the rest of his steps are faster than any other player.
Jones, (464 yards and five TDs) has a rocket for an arm — stronger than most NFL QBs and a perfect touch on the long passes.
Harris’ feet move like a Broadway dancer, as he flies through the smallest holes with the force of a Mack truck. It is interesting to note that Jones, Harris and Smith all had limited playing roles as freshman.
I sat right behind the Ohio State bench, and the contrast between the two teams’ focus and attention to detail was striking.
Near the end of the first half, OSU quarterback Justin Fields and a teammate were looking into the stands and pointing to some fans while Alabama was punting the ball, and Fields had to rush onto the field for a final play.
On the other hand, Alabama was precise and focused — evidenced by warm-ups at game speed, to receivers running precise routes, to plays being relayed into the quarterback, to substitutions being ready to get into the game.
During every injury or television timeout or other stoppage, Alabama’s managers would sprint on the field like a NASCAR pit crew with water and towels — Bama players were drinking water before OSU’s managers even left the sidelines.
Nick Saban has now won six titles with Alabama, in 12 years and, in my opinion, is the greatest college football coach of all time. He has adapted over time from winning titles with elite defenses to become the architect of the greatest offenses in history.
Yes, the Tide recruit the best players, but they recruit those players, not because Tuscaloosa is paradise but because great high school players consistently come to Bama and leave as NFL ready players.
Bama’s five-star recruits buy into the team concept and are willing to sit on the bench and learn.
In a year with limited or no fan attendance, COVID-19 testing and quarantines, it was an honor to be one of 15,000 people to witness extraordinary players and coaches secure the final win for one of the greatest teams of all time.
Kaufman is an Altoona native, attorney and traveling sports fan. He hosts a radio show called “Ira on Sports” in West Palm Beach and is available on Sound Cloud and iTunes under Ira on Sports.